An educational program for training extension professionals and vocational agriculture teachers on high-tunnel technology

2005 Annual Report for ENE03-076

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2003: $79,154.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $35,718.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
William Lamont
Pennsylvania State University

An educational program for training extension professionals and vocational agriculture teachers on high-tunnel technology


The use of high tunnel technology for extending the cropping season and in some instances even permitting year around production of certain horticultural crops continues to enable small to medium sized growers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region of the United States the opportunity to increase their farm income, while providing consumers and restaurants in the region the opportunity to purchase fresh, locally grown horticultural crops for a longer period of time.

The goal of this project is to develop and deliver an educational program on the construction, management and economics of high tunnels to the frontline educators who can then reach out and impact an even wider audience of growers. County Extension Educators, both at the university and county level, and Crop Consultants are certainly on the frontline in the delivery of new information and technology to growers. The Vocational Agriculture Teachers are training the agriculturists of tomorrow. These groups of educators seemed to be the ideal ones to offer training on high tunnels in an educational workshop environment. These individuals using the training they have received then developed their own educational programs and have passed on the information to growers and students throughout the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region.
A performance target goal is that 45 of the 180 participants attending the workshops will use the information to develop: a) their own educational programs, or b) assist growers in setting up a high tunnel or c) answer questions pertaining to crop production or d) will plan to construct a high tunnel at their high school and incorporate the technology into their curriculum.

To determine if we reached our performance target, all participants will be surveyed to ascertain how many used the information obtained from the workshops to develop their own educational programs to educate /assist growers in setting up a high tunnel or answering questions pertaining to crop production or plan to construct a high tunnel at their school

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of the 180 University/County Extension Educators, Crop Consultants and Vocational Agriculture Teachers attending the training programs, 45 will develop their own educational program to disseminate the information they gained to growers or assist growers in building a high tunnel or will provide growers with production information on horticultural crops being grown in high tunnels. The knowledge they gain from participating in the workshop and then share with growers will help growers provide fresh, locally produced healthful food products and flowers over a longer period of time to their customers. Extension of the growing season will increase grower's profitability while at the same promoting sustainability and good stewardship of resources, such as water, fertilizer and other inputs. The Vocational Agriculture Teachers from the Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic Region of the United States that will attend the training program will build a high tunnel at their educational facilities and incorporate the instruction/hands-on teaching about this technology into their curriculum.


Each of the workshops is considered a milestone. Three workshops were conducted in 2005: June 20-21, 2005, 2004 and August 22-23, 2005 workshops were held at the Penn State University High Tunnel Research and Education Facility, Rock Springs, PA. and the workshop on July 6-7, 2005 was held at the Kenneth Post Greenhouse Headhouse, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. At the end of each workshop, participants were asked “how many of you are planning on developing an educational program on high tunnels?” This provided us with a rough idea of how we are doing toward reaching our performance target of 45 participants who actually organize/present an educational program on high tunnels, assist growers by answering questions on high tunnels, whether on construction, management of crops or economics or develop or plan to develop an on-farm high tunnel demonstration with a participating grower or if a vocational agriculture teacher they have incorporated high tunnels in their educational program, and if they are considering purchasing a high tunnel for use in their high school.

1. 18 extension educators, crop consultants and vocational agriculture teachers attended the first high tunnel workshop on June 20-21, 2005. At the workshop several participants indicated that they are going to build a high tunnel or develop an education program on high tunnels.

2. 28 extension educators, crop consultants and vocational agriculture teachers attended the second high tunnel workshop on July 6-7, 2005. At the workshop several participants indicated that they are going to develop an education program on high tunnels.

3. 16 extension educators, crop consultants and vocational agriculture teachers attended the third high tunnel workshop in August 22-23, 2005. At the workshop several participants indicated that they are going to develop an education program on high tunnels.

4. E-mail follow-ups will be sent to participants that attended the 2005 workshops inquiring how they have used the information and to ascertain if they have actually developed and delivered an extension educational program on high tunnels.

5. The responses to our e-mail inquiries will provide the information to see if we actually reached our performance target and increased the educational programming targeted to growers on the use of high tunnels by extension educators, crop consultants and vocational agriculture teachers and in reality reached a wider audience of growers and students in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

We have conducted one program in 2003, three in 2004 and three in 2005, and are anticipating conducting two more workshops in 2006 targeted toward educating Master Gardeners who are part of Cooperative Extension and who supply information to the general public on a wide range of gardening topics. One workshop will be held at the High Tunnel Research and Education Facility, Penn State and the second at the Woodman Horticulture Farm, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The educational programs conducted in 2005 at the Penn State High Tunnel Research and Educational Facility located at Rock Springs, PA and Kenneth Post Headhouse, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY were similar in format and content as the sample listed below. We had university and county extension educators and vocational agricultural teachers from Maryland, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Wisconsin attending the workshops.

Sample Schedule and Topics for the Workshops

Day One

Registration and Coffee and Donuts at the High Tunnel Facility

Welcome and Background on High Tunnels and History of the Facility

Tips on Constructing a High Tunnel

The Production of Cut Flowers in a High Tunnel

Lunch provided

The Production of Small Fruit Crops in a High Tunnel

The Production of Vegetables in High Tunnels

Water, Soil and Nutrient Management in High Tunnels

Transitioning to Organic Production in High Tunnels

Disease Control Considerations in High Tunnels

Dinner on your own

Day Two

Coffee and Donuts at the High Tunnel Facility

Production of Sweet Cherries in a High Tunnel

The Use of Biocontrols in High Tunnels

How to Develop an Extension Programming Effort in High Tunnels

Lunch provided

Visit A Local Grower Using High Tunnels

We reimbursed the participants for:

2 nights lodging

Meals that were not provided for during the workshop

Mileage up to 500 miles at $0.375/mile

We have developed an excellent 157page High Tunnel Manual that has been provided each participant attending the workshop. This is serving as an excellent resource for the participants.

Being able to support the travel, meals and lodging of participants for these workshops is really a positive thing given the severe reduction in funding being experienced by extension services and school districts in the Northeast. Almost every extension service has experienced dramatic cuts in funding that has also eliminated personnel through early retirements packages or outright layoffs. This is a situation that is making it difficult for extension educators to attend educational programs and being able to reimburse the participants is really very positive and greatly appreciated by all the participants. We discussed this situation with participants at the 2003 workshop and at subsequent regional commodity meetings such as the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference, Hershey, PA and the New England Vegetable and Berry Growers Conference in Manchester, NH. The idea was discussed of having three educational programs in 2004, one program in the northern reaches of the SARE Region and two in the southern portion of the SARE area at our high tunnel research and education facility and doing the same in 2005. This is how we came to offer the workshop at the Woodman Horticulture Farm, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH in 2004 and at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY in 2005. This was a way we covered the region better and made it more economical for participants.
We continue to get a lot of interest in the program and we will be discussing the dates for the two educational programs for 2006 and then advertising them to extension educators, vocational agriculture teachers and crop consultants and Master Gardener Coordinators in each state in the Northeast Region through a wide variety of media. In follow up conversations with several of the participants of 2004 and 2005 educational programs, several have held educational programs on high tunnels and have use the manual in their programming efforts and some have assisted growers in developing plans for building a high tunnel.

Some examples of how attendees used of the information gained from the workshops:

Tom Butzler, Penn State Cooperative Extension Horticulture Educator, gave a “Totally Tomato Workshop in which he showcased the high tunnel that he constructed next to his Clinton County Extension Office. It was written up in the Williamsport Sun Gazette with a nice picture of the tomatoes, Tom and the high tunnel. Tom has used the high tunnel in several more educational programs.

Chris Wien constructed two large high tunnels at the East Ithaca Research Farm, Cornell University, after attending the workshops. One high tunnel is producing cut flowers and the others is producing red raspberries. Chris Wien then hosted the July SARE workshop.

Judson Reid, Cornell Cooperative Extension Agent, presented a program “High Tunnel Tomatoes and Peppers” at Howard Hoovers Farm, Penn Yan, NY. Judson reports that 40 persons attended the program. He has written several other pieces of information on high tunnels.

Eric Oesterling, Penn State Cooperative Extension Horticulture Educator held a “High Tunnel Twilight Meeting”, visited two different farms, Don and Jane Dillner Farm and Harvest Valley Farms to view different types of high tunnels and crops.

Mike Gallo a Vo-Ag Teacher has presented the ideas that he learned at the workshop to 5 Horticulture senior students and approximately 50 exploratory students. He found the manual to be an excellent resource and he has shared it with several farmers in his area. He is planning on building a high tunnel in 2006.

Barbara Murphy, Extension Educator in Oxford County, Maine has constructed a high tunnel at her office and is doing applied research on cut flower production. She is also teaching growers how to construct a high tunnel.

Richard Kersbergen, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, has presented several talks on high tunnels to about 25 homeowners/Master Gardeners and has used information from the high tunnel manual. He assisted Unity College in constructing a high tunnel to supply winter greens to their salad bar in the school cafeteria.

Laura McDermott, Cornell University Cooperative Extension Service has use the high tunnel manual (reproduced a lot of the manual) with at least 5 different growers. They also plan on hosting a full day educational program and tour of high tunnels for commercial growers.

One new and exciting addition to the educational program for the 2005 participants at our facility was the opportunity to view a 30-foot wide by 96-foot long high tunnel at the Penn State University Horticulture Farm that is heated using Plastofuel (nuggets made of used agricultural plastic waste i.e. plastic transplant containers, plastic mulch, drip irrigation tape and tubing, hay bags, silage bags, nursery pots, etc.) burned directly in a boiler unit generating hot water, that was developed in South Korea. This project is a partnership between Jim Garthe in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, and the High Tunnel Research and Education Facility and a private entrepreneur from South Korea. This utilization of this currently perceived waste material to generate heat might allow even more year around cropping options in high tunnels in the future and also allow for even earlier production of warm season tomatoes and peppers utilizing a high tunnel.